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The Natural State is home to many different types of trees, but some of these trees aren’t originally from Arkansas. That’s not a problem unless the trees have certain qualities that begin to force out and replace other trees. In a bid to keep the Natural State ecosystem healthy and full of trees that are native to the area, here are some tree species to look out for. Each tree on this list has been listed as an invasive tree in Arkansas and other states, or as a tree to be cautious about planting because of its invasive tendencies.
Photo: J. Bohnsack via Flickr
Bradford Pear trees are one of the most common invasive trees in the state. If you don’t have a Bradford Pear in your yard, someone in your neighborhood does. This tree originated in Korea and China and was first introduced to the state of Maryland in the early 1900s. The tree grows quickly but is not too tall and has beautiful white blossoms in the spring and bright red and orange foliage in the fall. Nurseries took notice, and the tree was soon marketed as the perfect tree for suburbs, street medians, shopping centers, and more. Unfortunately, the tree is weak and prone to breaking during strong storms. It also cross-pollinates with other pear trees to produce a thorny, wild tree that grows in thickets. These wild trees inhibit growth in forests, crowding out native species. Many states now recognize the Bradford Pear’s invasive qualities and encourage homeowners and developers to plant native trees instead.
Photo: Douglas Goldman via Wikimedia Commons
Chinese tallow trees, also called popcorn trees, have been in the United States for a long time. It was imported from China in the 1700s, and gardeners found it easy to grow. It adapts to many different landscapes and climates and boasts beautiful colors in the fall. In the spring, the tree produces tiny white and yellow flowers on the end of catkins. Then it produces green seed pods that turn brown and contain white seeds which can look like popcorn kernels. The Chinese tallow tree isn’t a tall tree, but it tends to spread out. Its seeds are carried by birds into new landscapes, and the seeds can lie dormant for up to five years before sprouting. Its invasive qualities include crowding out native species and toxic sap that is poisonous to animals and a skin irritant to people. If you identify a Chinese Tallow tree, contact the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Office to understand how to handle the tree and keep it from producing more fruit.
Photo: Urban Forestry via Flickr
The Chinaberry tree also has a long history in the U.S., arriving in the 1800s and quickly gaining ground in Southern states. While typically a small tree, it can grow up to 50 feet and has a slight umbrella shape. It was used as a shade tree in the South, and in the fall its leaves turn bright yellow. Despite its shade and beauty, the tree has been declared an invasive species in many states in the southern half of the U.S. It produces yellowish-brown berries that are poisonous to people and livestock, though birds can eat them and spread the seeds. Besides its poisonous qualities, the tree often shades other plant life in the area, with its quick growth impeding native species. The trees tend to take over areas beside roadsides and open meadows.
Photo: Wikipedia (Public Domain)
The Hardy Orange tree, also called Trifoliate Orange, originated in China and Korea. It came to the U.S. as an ornamental tree valued for its ability to form strong hedges. The tree is small and thorny, and its branches weave together to create a thick hedge. As its name implies, it is a hardy species, fairly resistant to cold weather, unlike most citrus trees. Hardy Orange trees produce large yellow fruits that are seedy and bitter. The oranges aren’t usually eaten, but they can be used to make marmalade. It grows across Louisiana and extends into Arkansas. Hardy Orange trees grow aggressively, pushing aside other growth and taking over entire areas. Efforts have been made at Arkansas Post National Memorial to reduce the tree’s growth. From 2006 to 2019, the tree’s presence was reduced from over 82 acres to just 1 acre, but it was still found in spots across one-third of the Memorial’s land.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Mimosa tree arrived in the United States from Asia in the 1700s. The tree is typically small, only reaching 20 to 40 feet, and produces beautiful pink flowers and a nice fragrance. Unfortunately, that’s where the advantages end. It is considered invasive in many parts of the world for its rapid growth and how quickly it spreads. Mimosa trees have large seed pods containing five to 10 seeds, which are easily carried by birds. The seeds are toxic to animals. Mimosa trees in the U.S. are susceptible to a disease called Mimosa wilt, which causes the tree to die. Once that happens, the tree sends out root suckers, and these can be difficult to eliminate in gardens, yards and wild areas.
Photo by Andy Scott via Wikimedia Commons
Paper mulberry trees were first imported to the United States from Asia in the 1700s for their potential use in the silk trade. At the time, colonists speculated it could be used to challenge China’s grip on that industry. Silkworms eat mulberry trees, so the trees are necessary for success in raising the worms. The tree’s long fibers were also used to make paper and clothing. The silk industry never came to fruition in the U.S., and it was soon discovered the Paper Mulberry had invasive qualities. It grows quickly and sends up many new shoots, which can create thickets of Mulberries if these aren’t cut down. The tree also needs a lot of water. It tends to grow near water sources and reach a height of 40 feet. These trees also have a shallow root system and are susceptible to falling over during storms.
Photo: Arboretum Arbonne via Wikimedia Commons
Tree of Heaven, like many other invasive trees, was imported to the U.S. from Asia in the 1700s. It is easily identifiable with its frond-like leaves and white flowers. Despite its name, the tree is anything but heavenly. It has an unpleasant odor, and it grows so quickly it crowds out many other species. Tree of Heaven also sends out an aggressive and extensive root system, which can wreak havoc on pipes and sewer systems. It releases a toxin to keep other trees from growing nearby. Tree of Heaven has now been found in every state and is considered invasive in the U.S.
Photo: Altotemi via Flickr
The last tree on today’s list, the White Poplar, came to the U.S. in the 1700s. It was widely planted in the next two centuries. The tree was initially favored by landowners as it grew quickly and reached heights of 80 feet. Its bark turns from gray to white as it ages, giving the tree its name. As far back as the Civil War, people began to recognize these trees were inhibiting the growth of other trees. White Poplar can form large colonies of trees through its root system, and when the trees are cut down, the roots send out suckers to develop other colonies. It also tends to grow back in stumps if these are left unattended. The tree also tends to break easily and is short-lived. Combined with its ability to outgrow and shadow other trees, it is now considered an invasive tree.
These invasive trees haven’t gone unnoticed in that state. Many organizations help identify invasive species and find alternatives to these trees, including the Land Conservation Assistance Network, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, and the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Office. If you’re planting new trees or you’re concerned about invasive trees on your land, you can contact them for assistance. For an online guide to planting native trees in the Natural State, look at the Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Tree Recommendations or reach out to local plant and tree nurseries who follow these recommendations. Planting native trees and avoiding invasive species is part of keeping the Natural State healthy and beautiful.
Header photo by Michelle DeRepentigny via Flickr.
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